Dorchester development to be geared toward gays
For the past few years gay and lesbian people have been flocking to Dorchester in droves, snapping up old Victorian houses in neighborhoods like Ashmont Hill and Savin Hill and practicing the time-honored gay art of home renovation, transforming often-decrepit homes into urban oases with well-manicured lawns. Vincent Droser, vice-president for development of Trinity Financial, is banking on a demand in the gay and lesbian community for a very different kind of Dorchester experience. Trinity Financial is the developer for the Carruth, a $50 million mixed-income building project in Peabody Square that will feature condos with marble-tiled bathrooms, bamboo flooring, central air conditioning and a heated underground parking garage, all attached to the Ashmont T station, which is currently being renovated. One of the key markets for the condos targeted by Trinity is the gay community.
Dorchester already has a strong condo market consisting of converted triple-deckers and multi-family homes. But Droser said the six-story Carruth is the first project of its kind in Dorchester, combining condos with upscale amenities and retail space on the first floor, including Wainwright Bank, the locally owned Flat Black coffee shop and Tavolo, the new restaurant by Ashmont Grill’s Chris Douglass. Trinity has invested no shortage of time and money in the project, which is scheduled to welcome its first occupants in early 2008. Droser said they participated in 50 community meetings relating to the project, spent four years going through the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s review process, and solicited the input of people in the neighborhood as well as MBTA officials in the design of the project.
"Some people would think we’re nuts, there’s no question about it. We spent six years on this project and we’ve got to sell all those condos to make it successful. So it’s absolutely a challenge, but it’s also been a lot of fun and very gratifying," said Droser.
The Carruth, which is being built on the site of what was formerly a vacant lot, will feature 42 one- and two-bedroom condos starting at about $300,000, all housed on the building’s top two floors. The interiors of the condos are being designed by the South End’s Duffy Design Group. The building also features 74 rental units, all of which are priced to be affordable to households at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI); eight of the units will be affordable to households at or below 30 percent of the AMI.
Droser said one of the key markets for the condos will be gay and lesbian people who have been priced out of the South End.
"We think there’s a very strong market for everybody, but in particular, for the most part Dorchester has been welcoming to gay and lesbian folks, and we think this is another opportunity for particularly folks in the South End or people who have been renting in the South End who say, ’I would love to live in the South End but it’s too damn expensive,’ and they say, ’I could live here, it’s sort of cutting edge,’" said Droser. "A couple years from now, a couple more businesses, a couple more restaurants, people have said it could be the new South End. I think it’s going to be different than the South End. It just has a different feel and character to it, but it’ll definitely be a place where people say, there’s stuff going on here, I can live here."
Larry Gettings of At Home Realty, the listing agent for the Carruth, said that price is one of the prime selling points for the condos, and he said he hopes to attract the interest of first-time home buyers who want to live in the city near public transportation but who cannot afford the South End or Cambridge. Beyond the price he said the area is also likely to be a draw for gay and lesbian people because of the sense that Dorchester is beginning to become an up-and-coming neighborhood, with gay-friendly hot spots like the Ashmont Grill and dbar. He believes the sense of the area’s history and its architecture will also be a draw.
"The other attractions are the history and the architecture and the fact that it’s up and coming. I think that’s an attraction for the gay community, to be at the front, not at the end of things," said Gettings.
A Dorchester resident himself, Gettings said he also foresees interest in the condos from current Dorchester residents who want to trade in the responsibilities of home maintenance and shoveling snow for more laid-back living and high-rise views of the Boston skyline.
"We know the demands of an old house, and I’m 40, so a lot of folks who are getting up in years, 50-plus, are looking at these units," said Gettings.
Justin Green, Dorchester’s top-selling real estate agent by dollar volume, said there will likely be a market for the Carruth’s condos in the gay community because there is already a strong demand for condos in Dorchester among gay and lesbian people. He said most of his own business involves condo sales, often triple-deckers and multi-family units converted into high end condos, and about half of his customers are gay. Green said he has no involvement with the Carruth.
The main difference between the Carruth and the existing condo market in Dorchester, Green said, is the size of the Carruth and its more urban flavor.
"It’s nice to have a project like that in the Ashmont area because a lot of the appeal of northern Dorchester is it’s more city-like ... This is bringing a little bit more of an urban feel to southern Dorchester and close to Milton," said Green.
It remains to be seen whether gay and lesbian people will put down bids on the condos in the Carruth, but among LGBT people living in the area there seems to be enthusiasm for the building. Local drag theater legend Ryan Landry, who has lived in the Ashmont area for the past seven years, said he is hopeful that the new condos will bring in more young people to the neighborhood, particularly those interested in getting involved in the neighborhood’s burgeoning arts scene.
"My question always is, will the young artists be able to thrive there? ... I hope that the condos will bring more young people, and I don’t mean yuppies. I mean young people who want to get started in owning property and investing wisely," said Landry.
He said the mix of businesses going into the Carruth are a step in the right direction to retaining the neighborhood’s character, with Flat Black instead of a Starbucks and a reasonably priced restaurant like Chris Douglass’s Tavolo. He said ideally he would like to see other businesses go in such as artists’ or musicians’ supply stores or a reasonably-priced antiques store.
"I just hope it’s not a lot of chi-chi boutiques going in there," said Landry.
He said he believes that much of the appeal of the neighborhood for LGBT people is that the gay community has been embraced by their straight neighbors.
"I mean, the gay thing, I shoot movies on my front lawn with drag queens and no one has any problem at all," said Landry. "In fact they watch and laugh ... It’s very relaxed, and everyone wants to get along and have a blast."
Douglas Brooks, executive director of JRI Health, is a recent transplant to Dorchester, moving from Jamaica Plain to the Ashmont area last February. He said he first fell in love with a house in the neighborhood, and as he began to explore Ashmont the rest of the neighborhood caught his eye, including the construction of the Carruth.
"The more I started to go over and take a look at what was happening, one of the things that attracted me to the community was the development of the Carruth ... What I knew was if there was this type of construction and new development going on in the neighborhood, the neighborhood was changing and someone was putting some resources into it," said Brooks.
While Carruth residents will not benefit from the Ashmont area’s housing stock, Brooks said he expects there will be demand for the building’s condos and rental units due to their proximity to the T.
"Someone’s gotten really smart at putting city living right on the T ... They get access to downtown very easily but get to come out to Dorchester where you get more space for your money," said Brooks.
He said another selling point for the area is Dorchester’s already burgeoning gay community.
"There’s a real presence. On my street there are probably 22, 24 houses. Seven of those I know are gay owned," said Brooks.
Not that enthusiasm for the project is unanimous. Michael Coté, an openly gay Dorchester city council candidate trying to unseat council President Maureen Feeney, said that he worries the Carruth may increase parking congestion in the neighborhood, since there are only 80 parking spaces for the building’s 116 condo and rental units.
While he described the building as "a little overdone," he said he expects the businesses in the retail section of the building will fit in with the other neighborhood businesses in the area.
As for the question of gentrification, Coté said an influx of gay and lesbian people moving into the Carruth is unlikely to have an impact on the affordability of the area.
"I would hope that it wouldn’t because the concept of transit-oriented development was that it was supposed to be a cell centered around the Ashmont T stop and not have a ripple effect in the rest of the community," said Coté.
Brooks said he worries that an influx of largely white gay and lesbian people into Dorchester could drive up rental prices and make them less affordable for longtime residents of the neighborhood, particularly people of color. But he said in the Ashmont area the relatively high rates of home ownership, as opposed to rental, by people of color may reduce gentrification.
"What I see are a lot of the homes that are owned there are owned by racially diverse groups of people. Now I don’t know if the economic status is as diverse, but it’s my assumption that a lot of these folks, these are homes that have been in people’s families for generations, and they seem very stable," said Brooks. "They invest in the upkeep of them and the maintenance ... It worries me some, but not as much as in other places, because since there’s such a large diverse group of people who own [homes that] there might not be as much of an impact as in other neighborhoods."